Steve Rickerby, is the founder of We Compost, a collection service for compostable waste.

Can you tell me about We Compost?

We Compost is a collection service for compostable waste. Our aim is to help our customers reduce the amount of waste they send to landfill, and we started with one bin of coffee grounds on the back of my ute in September 2009. It's just me working full time in the business, plus two part-time drivers and my partner Gemma.

Why is sustainability important in your business?

For me it started out as a personal thing. It was inherent in who I was and I wanted to build a business with the same values. As the business has grown it has become an integral part of the brand and is one of the things that differentiates us. My partner and I now have two young boys and I'd love to see them take over the business one day and for it to continue after I'm gone!

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What are some of the things you do in your business to make it more sustainable?

We worked with our fuel supplier Z Energy to install telematics in our vehicles and we track consumption against driver behaviour. Getting as many kilometres out of every litre of fuel is hugely important so we also do training for fuel-efficient driving and make sure our vehicles are serviced on a regular schedule.

We also work hard on our route optimisation to make sure we collect as many bins as possible in the most efficient way. For us that means double shifting the trucks, and backloading with comingled recycling after we've dropped off the compostables.

We also run a paperless office, so we use cloud software for all our business functions. This saves a heck of a lot of paper and double entry, but it also means I can run the business from an iPad in the truck while Gemma can be sending invoices from the beach up north. And we try to give back as much as we can to the local community, whether that's via free collections for local events or offering bags of compost to community groups and customers.

Have you pursued any certification as a business for your sustainability efforts?

We were carboNZero certified for about three years, but when we started growing really quickly we decided to put the money we were putting into that programme into bins instead, and most recently we've been working towards a CEMARS certification. Although we're not currently carboNZero certified, that methodology forms the basis of what we do so, for example, we measure our emissions, manage them as best we can and if we can, we mitigate them.

We collect around 500 tonnes of compostable waste each year, which helps our customers avoid about 270 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. So that well and truly covers off our emissions from fuel use, which makes me feel okay about not formally mitigating our emissions!

What sort of commercial payback have you been getting as a business from doing some of these things?

Improving our fuel consumption rate has a direct impact on our bottom line. We spend around $15,000 a year on fuel so a 10 percent saving on that is really worthwhile for a small business. Fuel-efficient driving is also safer driving so there are also savings from the reduced risk of accidents, through to reductions in repair and maintenance expenses.

In our particular market, though, it's the positioning that's most important. It differentiates us, and aligns us with our target customers.

What have you found most challenging about growing a sustainable operation?

Balancing growth with sustainable practices and limited capital is hugely challenging. I'd love to be carboNZero or CEMARS certified for instance but we simply couldn't afford to do this and keep pouring cash into new trucks and bins as we grow. I'd also love to be running a fleet of electric trucks, but we need to build the run density first and increase revenue to be able to afford to do this. So the challenge is really to keep looking at the big picture and to be able to make those tough calls today to ensure we get the best result long term.

What's a key piece of advice you'd have for any other business owners looking to make their operations more sustainable?

Start now. Even the smallest change will be worthwhile.

Coming up in Your Business: The end of the year is rolling in, and it's a time when businesses are saying thanks to their employees and supporters. So what are some of the ways small businesses say thank you customers and staff at the end of the year? If you've got a story to tell about what you do to say thanks and why, drop me a note: nzhsmallbusiness@gmail.com